Florida Gov. Rick Scott made a brief stopover in Lakeland Friday to endorse Polk County School career academies and encourage business leaders to continue collaborating with the schools to prepare a workforce to meet the community’s future needs.
Some 50 business leaders and school officials met with Scott at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy at Lakeland Linder Airport to learn how Scott supports Polk’s education efforts to prepare students for a place in the local economy.
“It’s good to see what you are doing to get students ready for jobs,” the governor told the group which also included County Commissioners Ed Smith and Melony Bell and School Board members Hugh Berryman and Hazel Sellers.
“Aviation, mathematics, engineering and technology are becoming more and more here,” Scott said. “And it’s good to see you’re preparing students for jobs with companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.”
“We’re seeing a big turnaround,” the governor said. “And these industries are promising places for jobs. We know not all students are bound for our universities, and to see academies focused on these fields make Florida even more inviting for more of them to locate here or expand.”
Scott told the business leaders, most attending by invitation only, “Florida is a great place to do business and we’re supplying them with a great workforce to draw from.”
The governor also touted the Polk County School District for “providing relevant learning” to give students “a head start.”
He also reinforced Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy’s philosophy that there must be business partnerships to grow both the business and the students.
“The schools must have business partners,” Scott added. “We have to solve our customers’ needs and find out what the community needs to keep growing.”
Scott only spent about 90 minutes at the Friday afternoon stopover but took time to hear from some business and community leaders during the informal forum.
Among those commenting was Bartow Fire Chief Jay Robinson. He told Scott that Bartow High School had started it’s Fire and Law Enforcement Academy some 17 years ago.
“We’ve seen a lot of students who just need to put their hands-on, not go to college,” he told the state’s Republican chief. “The Fire Academy has been more than a success and we’re very proud of being involved in it since the beginning.”
Haines City Chamber of Commerce President Linda Pilkington thanked Scott “for making education a priority.”
“Our kids can go from middle to high school to college all in the same area, and learn in the same career path. The academies are important once they decide what they want to study they can continue it from middle school all the way through college or technical school if that’s what they choose.”
“Polk is doing great,” Scott said. “We’re continuing to talk with our universities and work forces to see what is available and what we need. We need to make sue we have the right people together.”
Smith told Scott the county was working to continue its support of education and to help the education system. “We see that people need a good job, a good education and if we can give that to them locally, we’ll keep them here,” he said.
Scott heard Mike Smith of Publix and George Rogers of GEICO also laud the school district’s efforts in establishing career academies. Rogers said GEICO had partnered with the schools in establishing the business leadership academy at George Jenkins High School. “And we’ve hired five of its graduates so far,” he said.
Smith said the schools had also worked with the grocery chain in adapting an academy into the distribution arena. “We need workers with technical skills and to tailor, shape and create programs and a curriculum to enhance those skills. We’re putting those into place now.”
Sellers also told said Polk schools have 100 middle and high school academies of sciences, mathematics, technology, aviation, arts and agriculture.